A lot of people ask me what are the differences between coaching and therapy. From the outside looking in they appear similar – one person asking another person questions in order to solve an issue.

So here is my list of 5 differences between coaching and therapy. For the purpose of this article I am grouping together counsellors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists as “psychologists”. It’s not ideal, I know, but if you want to read up on the differences between the various mental health professions this site would be a great place to start.

  1. A psychologist will look at a client as having a mental health issue to solve. A coach doesn’t. As coaches we are not qualified to treat mental health issues (unless we happen to be psychologists too). We take our clients’ mental health issues into consideration, but we don’t claim to fix them or treat them. Some of what we do may help with coping strategies, and psychologists often suggest coaching as a complement to therapy. But coaching is not a replacement for or an alternative to treatment of mental illness.
  2. In coaching I look at the now and next – where are you, where do you want to be and how will you get there? A psychologist deals with unfinished business from the past. A psychologist will look at the past in order to understand the mental health issue their client is dealing with. He or she may ask about your childhood, your relationships with your parents or past lovers. In some types of therapy you will peel back the layers and dig deep into old wounds. This can be a necessary part of the healing process. It is not a coach’s role to dig up the past. We are forward looking. I will acknowledge a client’s comments about the past, listen to them, and bear them in mind. But as soon as possible I will bring them back to the present so that they can look forward. It is not my job to heal. Coaches are not healers. We transform your life and help you bring out the best in yourself, but we are not qualified to open up old wounds and are not equipped to heal them.
  3. A psychologist will focus on emotions and feelings about a subject. A coach will take your emotions and feelings into consideration, but will ask you to take a step back and give your thoughts, possibly from different angles. That isn’t to say that coaching never gets emotional – it does. You will feel relief, joy, excitement, sometimes frustration, happiness and realisation. But your emotions aren’t my top priority. Your thoughts and actions are.
  4. The aim of coaching is to empower. As a coach I will help you set goals and take steps towards achieving them, as well as hold you accountable to JFDI but ultimately the responsibility is with you. I don’t give advice and I don’t tell you what to do. Coaching aims to empower you to take responsibility and take action. The aim of therapy is to heal.
  5. In coaching we talk a lot about goals, strategies, and objectives. It is a very active process. In fact the client’s decision to have coaching is the first pro-active decision of very many. With the coach the client will move faster, with more strength towards better defined goals. Therapy is a more reflective process, more introspective. It is a stop and think time, which can be equally useful in the right circumstances.

So that should give you an insight into some of the differences between coaching and therapy. But how do you know which one you need?

Put simply if you:

  • Have unresolved past trauma
  • Would like diagnosis or treatment for a mental health issue

Then therapy might be the best way forward.

If you:

  • Are looking to work on self-confidence or communication skills
  • Want to get better work-life balance and put boundaries in place
  • Want to design your new life and a new you
  • Want to work with a professional in order to define goals and strategies
  • Want to be more effective and enhance your performance at work or in your personal life

Then coaching might be for you.

One final thing. I am a certified coach and a member of the ICF. The following text from the ICF should assure you:  “ICF Members have received training to discern the differences between coaching and therapy and are obliged by our organization’s Code of Ethics to refer prospective or current clients to therapists when appropriate.”

See here for more information.

Still not sure? Fair enough – I kept this to 5 differences between coaching and therapy but there are loads. Get in touch and we can talk more.


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